Tampa small business owner leaves Bank of America, finds better loan process with smaller community bank


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The White House says more than $300 billion in stimulus money is ready to help small businesses.

The problem is getting approved for it. Tampa Bay area business owners say they can’t get answers from their banks and they’re worried they will miss out.

Some Bay area businesses are trying a new tactic to get help from the feds, and it might just be working.

Small business owners have reached out to 8 On Your Side frustrated with trying to submit their applications with large banks and the lack of communication throughout the process. Now many are finding that bigger isn’t always better.

At Ginger Snips in Seminole Heights, things are quiet and empty since the coronavirus shutdown.

“It was booming. March, April, May was our prime season. I should be rolling in money right now, but I’m not,” Ginger Snips owner Michele Renee said.

Renee is a single mom with two employees. She’s hoping to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program.

“It will help us pay for employees, mortgages, utilities and food,” said Renee.

She went with Bank of America because it was a bigger bank. But after watching our reports about business owners not getting answers from the bank, she says she spent hours on the phone and got no answers from local branch employees as to the status of her PPP application.

“They just weren’t given the tools to help us. It was not a good experience trying to get answers,” said Renee.

Going to a smaller bank, she says she got constant updates throughout the process.

Bank of America contends it has provided resources online, sent over 10 million emails and is making calls to the over 200,000 clients that submitted to the Small Business Administration since Monday.

The large lending institution tells 8 On Your Side the Small Business Administration created two paths for B of A to submit applications.

In a statement, a Bank of America spokesperson said:

“From Sunday through early Monday morning, following SBA guidance, we sent 184,000 client applications to the SBA and we are now waiting for them to process and approve these loans. Our technology partners worked hard to create files in a format the SBA could accept and worked well through the night to get that done. Of those applications, more than 9 out of 10 were for small business clients (as distinct from Business Banking, Global Commercial Banking clients.)

We now have another 48,000 client applications ready for the SBA. Since they reopened at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, we have been uploading these to the SBA through their slower, more manual process.

The applications we provided to the SBA are for exactly the small businesses that need the help. Of the 239,000 applications we have processed for the SBA to date:

  • 98% are for companies with fewer than 100 employees
  • 76% are for companies with fewer than 10 employees
  • 93% are for less than $350,000
  • 78% are for less than $100,000
  • Eight out of 10 are for Small Business Banking clients (as distinct from Business Banking, Global Commercial Banking clients)

Once the SBA approves the loans we have submitted to them, and are trying to submit through their manual process, hundreds of thousands of small businesses in America will be getting the help that the Congress and Treasury Department intended when they created this program.

To keep our clients informed and up to date, we have sent over 10 million emails to them. Today, we will communicate to each client whose application has been submitted to the SBA, advising them the loan application has been submitted, and we will notify each client promptly when the SBA has acted on the application. We expect that will take several days at the earliest based on what the SBA is telling us.

When a loan is approved by the SBA, we have a digital process that generates a promissory note for the client immediately. For clients who received an SBA loan number on Monday, we have already funded more than half of those loans, with the remainder in process today.”

Meanwhile, Paul Noris, CEO of Bank of Central Florida in Lakeland, says personal communication is vital and often easier at smaller community banks.

“We communicated with our clients every other day. We let them know exactly where we were in the process, what the status was in our applications, how long it would take for them to get closed, once they were approved. We continuously updated them even when we didn’t have much to update them on, but we knew people were starving for information,” said Norris.

The Bank of Central Florida said they had to first get approved by the SBA to become an approved lender. They have since closed 364 loans – in the last week alone. Their average in a week is 30 loans.

Noris said by the end of the week they will have helped fund $90 million in PPP loans to small business owners.

“So as we’re making loan decisions or making decisions about our community and the way we make investments into the community, those decisions get made right here in Lakeland as opposed to larger regional banks, those decisions could be made outside the market. So we feel being a little closer to our client is always a better situation for them,” said Noris.

Michele Renee said she was contacted Tuesday afternoon by Bank of Tampa and told she has been approved for a PPP loan.

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